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Respectable Sin #8: Impatience & Irritability

May 11, 2008

(Eighth in a series of my thoughts on the book Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges)

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Did you wince a little when you saw what this “respectable sin” was? I know I did when I opened the book to this chapter!

For the purposes of this chapter, the author defines impatience as “a strong sense of annoyance at the (usually) unintentional faults and failures of others. This impatience is often expressed verbally in a way that tends to humiliate the person (or persons) who is the object of the impatience.”

He goes on to say, and I think rightly so, that the key to understanding this type of impatience is that it is a response to the usually unintentional actions of others. When I get impatient with my dad because I’ve just said something for the fourth time and he still hasn’t completely or correctly heard me, I need to remember that he isn’t trying to be hard of hearing or make me go bonkers from repeating myself. When another driver pulls out in front of me as I am racing to get up to the green light, and he is in no hurry to get anywhere, he isn’t trying to make me stop for a red light. These are some examples from my everyday life. I could go on, but I don’t have all night. šŸ™‚

After providing a few examples of his own, the author says this, which caused me to draw a big exclamation mark in the margin of my book:

We should note that [these situations don’t cause] us to be impatient. They merely provide an opportunity for the flesh to assert itself . The actual cause of our impatience lies within our own hearts, in our own attitude of insisting that others around us conform to our expectations.

Yeah, I know.

Ouch!

Again.

Mea culpa.

And as if I didn’t already see enough of myself in this, he gives the example of parents becoming impatient over the painfully slow process of training our children. We say things like, “How many times have I told you to do X?” or “When are you going to learn to do Y?” He writes:

Obviously, the type of impatient expressions I’ve used as illustrations do not further our training efforts. They serve only to vent our impatience and humiliate the child.

Um, yeah.

Happy mother’s day, y’all.

i think that just reminding ourselves of the unintentional aspect of these irritations will work wonders toward making us more patient people. Patience is something that must be cultivated, particularly in the life of a believer. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit, it is one of the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, we are told to clothe ourselves in patience in Colossians 3:12. And if patience is a virtue to be cultivated, then impatience is a sin to be put to death in our lives.

Moving right along from impatience to the closely related irritability, the author defines irritability as the frequency of impatience or the ease with which one becomes impatient over the slightest provocation. An irritable person is one who is impatient most of the time, one with whom you feel as though you need to “walk on eggshells.”

(I used to be that person. Dan says I’m not now. Thank goodness!)

Now, what do you do if you find yourself the object of someone’s impatience? The author gives us two ways of dealing with irritable people. First is to follow the example of Jesus as seen in 1 Peter 2:23. Second is to confront the person, but only if you have resolved the issue in your own heart. You need to be able to speak to the person in such away that they will benefit from it. You can’t just go in, all fired up and resentful, and vent your frustration on them.

How will they respond? If they become defensive or hostile, revert to the first option of following Jesus’ example. All the while, you must remember that God may be using this person’s sinful actions to help you grow in the virtues of patience and meekness. If they take what you have said to heart, then you have probably enhanced your relationship with them.

So in short, remember that people who irritate us aren’t trying to irritate us. (It only feels that way! LOL) Or, stated much more clearly by the author,

Peter wrote, ‘Love covers a multitude of sins’ (1 Peter 4:8). We might say that if love covers a multitude of sins, how much more should it cover a multitude of acts that irritate us.

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